Flicks got game?

Having progressed from Missile Command and Space Invaders to movie cross-platform marketing ventures such as Fantastic 4 or Batman Begins, video games have certainly gone Hollywood, with the production values to prove it. Unfortunately, they’ve fallen prey to the same problems of Hollywood blockbusters; that is, look-alike titles become mind-numbingly repetitious.

That’s not to say that Fantastic 4 isn’t a decent action game. In it, you put the comic-book heroes through their paces, kicking enemy ass in a series of tightly scripted encounters. Each of the characters has upgradable powers, from Johnny Flame’s fireballs to Sue Gray’s telekinetic powers, but the linear narrative wouldn’t challenge a lab rat. There are relatively few cut-scenes interspersed throughout the sustained battles you endure in the narrow caves and corridors.

Absent a strong story to leaven the eventual tediousness of the battles, Fantastic 4 is a challenge to finish, more because of its deficiencies than difficulty. The added option of two-person play is a boon because it’s so rare in action games these days. (Last year’s X-Men is a better game overall, though the gameplay is similar; the story is stronger, and there’s a richer variety of characters and powers.)

Of the two releases, Batman Begins is better. Both sport stellar graphics typical of movie-based titles, but Batman captures the noir-ish mood of its story perfectly.

Unlike a “superhero” Batman isn’t immune to bullets, so he overcomes his enemies by dropping from ceilings unseen, employing environmental hazards and fear. You spring around the screen like the Prince of Persia and climb around on pipes and overhangs like the character from Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell.

It’s a kinetic game with a couple of fun interior spins including the Prowler, an early tank version of the Batmobile, which you use to make mincemeat of your assailants’ cars. You can navigate many screens, creating the same narrow linearity that dogs Fantastic 4. Plus, creeping around soon becomes a pain as you wonder why big, tough Batman can’t just pick up one of the stray Uzis and riddle the losers with bullets. Further, the interactive environments are still pretty rudimentary.

Neither game breaks new ground or offers particularly innovative gameplay, each suffers from the familiarity of the genres, but this ain’t art, it’s a pastime. As such, Batman is a breezy summer joy and Fantastic 4 more a rote gaming exercise with some thrills, but nothing you haven’t experienced more enjoyably elsewhere.

Chris Parker is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]